SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 15, 2017) -- Presidio of Monterey's 1st Lt. Michelle Ambuul exhibited tough-nosed resilience to help the All-Army women secure silver at the 2017 Armed Forces Basketball Championships.
As if getting her nose broken during training camp Oct. 10 at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, was not enough to overcome, Ambuul got whacked again the following week during an intra-squad scrimmage at Fort Hood, Texas.
A nose broken twice in as many weeks would make many athletes retreat from competition, but Ambuul donned a protective mask and played All-Army's last four games of the seven-day tournament at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
All-Navy (6-1) defeated All-Army (4-3), 79-63, in the women's gold-medal game Nov. 7 at Chaparral Fitness Center. On the men's side, All-Army (6-1) successfully defended its crown with a 95-85 victory over All-Air Force (3-4).
The tournament was perhaps the last hurrah as a competitive basketball player for Ambuul, 30, who serves as Associate Dean of the Persian Farsi Schoolhouse at the Defense Language Institute on the Presidio of Monterey, California.
"I think this is the last time I'll play competitive basketball at a high level," said Ambuul, who was selected for the All-Armed Forces Team in 2012 while stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. "I have other priorities that I want to focus on. And the older you get, the harder it is on your body. I'm definitely learning that the hard way. I just want to go out strong."
After all, broken noses were growing old for Ambuul, who says she suffered the same injury six times since she began playing college ball.
"Once in Germany, when I was 22 or 23," she recalled. "All the rest were in college between 2005 and 2009."
Both of the most recent fractures happened after Ambuul secured a rebound, only to catch an elbow to the face in the process. This time, Ambuul predicted she had "at least a deviated septum" because she couldn't breathe very well.
In college, Ambuul was one of the leading three-point shooters in the Rocky Mountain Conference for the NCAA Division II Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves. In high school, she averaged 20.6 points and 5.1 rebounds as a senior and was named Colorado Springs' Player of the Year by The Gazette.
"Everyone who plays a sport always has that passion and that drive to do it," Ambuul said. "I said I was going to stop playing a while ago, and look where I'm at today."
Ambuul appreciated the encouragement of her chain of command at the Presidio of Monterey: Dean of Students at the Defense Language Institute Air Force Lt. Col. Bert Cool, Col. Phillip Deppert, Capt. Brandon Peer and Col. Toni Sabo.
"They were so supportive it wasn't even funny," Ambuul said. "They told me to go out there and do well and make them proud. I really love the job that I'm in right now and I'm thankful to be a part of the community."
As the highest ranking military personnel at the school, Ambuul was determined to represent the Army and the Presidio at the Armed Forces Basketball Championships.
"Deep down, I want to play, but I have to put my health first," she said after watching the All-Army women improve to 2-0 in the tournament from the bench while awaiting delivery of a faceguard from crosstown Fort Sam Houston. "It's not fair for me to go out there and be conscious of my face, knowing it's broken, and possibly not dive for an extra rebound or take a charge. It would be selfish if I'm afraid of getting more hurt."
Despite a power outage that delayed delivery of her mask by one day, Ambull managed to play in Army's last four games.
As a former high school and college basketball star who competed in the Armed Forces Championships as a Soldier, Ambuul witnessed firsthand the benefits of the program.
"It takes everybody up to a higher level," she said. "You're building camaraderie. You're building esprit de corps. You're working on teamwork. You're getting in shape. And everyone you're competing with or against, there's always a chance of working with them on down the line."
Although Armed Forces Championship tournaments generally field four teams -- Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps -- all participants belong to one big U.S. military team in the grand scheme of things.
"There was a female I played with in 2012 on the Armed Forces team, after All-Army, and she's one of my neighbors now at the Presidio of Monterey -- she's at the Naval post-graduate school," Ambuul said. "It's a small world, and you build connections. It's a lifetime thing."
A firm believer in functional fitness, Ambull, who can't routinely find a game of pickup basketball, does a lot of cardio and plyometric workouts on her own with kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls and rollers. In the end, however, she knew what the Armed Forces Championship would come down to.
"To get that gold medal you have to knock down the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy," Ambuul said. "It's a battle. And at Armed Forces, it does get rough out there."